Half of Korean students in alternative classes satisfied: report

South Korea's special education programs, tailor-made for students having difficulty adjusting to schools, have received positive feedback from both students and teachers, the Ministry of Education said Thursday.

The programs, known here as "alternative classes," can substitute the country's 12-year compulsory education system in part or in whole. They were implemented last year as part of an effort to reduce the number of students dropping out of school.

Some 58 per cent of students participating in the programme said they found "positive changes in their lives" and another 53.7 per cent said it helped them develop an interest in his or her school life, the ministry said, citing a report by professor Kim In-hee of the Korea National University of Education. The report surveyed 1,603 students and 250 teachers who participated in the programme.

Kim's report also showed that classes helped 54.8 per cent of the students become interested in their prospective careers.

Jongam Middle School in Seoul said it operated the class for "so-called delinquents" and claimed it saw a "considerable drop" in the number of school violence cases, adding that it did not expel a single student this year.

About 72.4 per cent of the teachers said their relationships with students have improved throughout the programme, while 77.2 per cent said the programme has helped with students' maladjustment issues in school. Overall, 68 per cent said they found positive changes in students.

In 2014, 17,949 students from 1,582 elementary, middle and high schools across the country participated in the programme. Some schools like Beopdong Middle School in Daejeon mixed specialised classes, like counseling and interpersonal relationships, with regular classes.

Government subsidies worth 6.8 billion won (S$8.2 million) were provided for the classes.

Ministry officials said they are pushing to improve the programme's quality by making an operation manual, creating programs in which students can take initiative and providing training courses for the teachers.

According to the Education Ministry, 60,568 dropped out of schools in 2014, which was about 0.9 per cent of students in primary and secondary education. Some 25 per cent said that it was because they had trouble adjusting to school life.

Earlier this year, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education increased the number of schools running the alternative class programme from 11 to 33, and said last week that it is planning further expansion next year. In 2013, 5,454 students dropped out of school in Korea's capital and most populous city.